George G Meade

General George Gordon Meade of Pennsylvania was born in Cadiz, Spain and was 47 when he fought his greatest battle, Gettysburg in 1863. A deeply religious man he was, nevertheless, always set upon a military career and graduated from West Point in 1835 as an Engineer officer. Meade served as Winfield Scott’s Engineer officer at the siege of Vera Cruz during the Mexican war and quickly gaining a reputation as a brave, conscientious, and self-reliant officer who carried out orders effectively while conforming strictly to convention. Meade performed well as a brigade commander in the Peninsula campaign and at second Bull Run (28–30 August, 1862), and as a divisional general at South Mountain (14 September, 1862). He was respected by his colleagues and impressed his superiors who entrusted a temporary Corps command to him at Antiedam (17 September, 1862).

At Fredericksburg (11-15 December, 1862) Meade‘s Division of Pennsylvanians found a seam in Jackson’s line along a wooded ravine and penetrated the Confederate defenses. This could have turned the battle in favour of the Union Army but Franklyn’s failure to throw in reserves to exploit the success allowed the Confederates to counter-attack the Pennsylvanians throwing them out of the wood into the open where the rebel advance was only halted by Union artillery. An anxious Robert E. Lee watching from his command post sighed with relief as his men repaired the breech, and commented to James Longstreet “: It is well that war is so terrible-we should grow too fond if it”. Meade who had done nothing rash, nor wrong, was seen however to be a man who could get the job done and was confirmed as a Union Corps commander at Chancellorsville (April 30 to May 6, 1863).

By June 1963, President Lincoln had lost confidence in his Commander-in-Chief, Joseph Hooker, and on the 28th June George Meade was elevated to command the 90,000 man strong Army of the Potomac concentrated at Frederick, Maryland. With little time to prepare (he is said to have flown into an almighty fury when he discovered the lack of paperwork, organization, intelligence and records he inherited) he was within days compelled to give battle at Gettysburg where, at perhaps the most important battle of the civil war, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was decisively defeated.

Meade appears to have gone into some sort of shock after Gettysburg failing to follow up his success and allowing Lee to slip away. This infuriated Lincoln, who thought that a golden opportunity to destroy Lee’s Army once and for all had been thrown away. Ulysses Grant, who had just won a magnificent victory at Vicksburg, was brought over from the West to take charge as Supreme Federal Commander, with Meade, as his subordinate retaining command of the Army of the Potomac for the duration of the war (although very much under Grant’s tight control), and never really regained the confidence of his Political masters. Meade’s role thus became more administrative than fighting.


Meade was known to be stern and taciturn; he could be erasable, having little ‘spats’ with the media and outbursts of petulance. Whilst often appearing gaunt he did however, have a strong will as demonstrated by his circular issued before Gettysburg: “Corps and other commanders are authorised to order the instant death of any soldier who fails in his duty at this hour”

Meade appears to have been an ‘average general’, lacking in imagination and opposed to originality and the unconventional (He even opposed the digging of the famous ‘Crater’ tunnel under the defences at the Siege of Petersburg –An odd attitude for someone who had originally trained as an officer of Engineers), and was latterly criticized for being too defensively minded (perhaps a reaction to the Bloodbaths of Antiedam and Fredericksburg), but his dour ability to trust god and to do his duty according to his political masters’ will, made him a formidable opponent as Lee discovered to his cost.

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